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International Employment Options

Harvard programs typically rely on one of the six established options outlined below to staff their international projects. For each option, it’s important to consider the potential budget implications beyond the salary or payment provided to the employee or contractor. Not all options may be available to you and your project, and most options require substantial lead time (6–8 weeks).

We’ll work with you and your local Human Resource or Academic Affairs Office to consider the host country regulations, the needs of your program, and the employment costs to determine which option could be a good fit. You can also download our quick guide to international employment options, hiring intake form, and international employment reference guide.

Due to the Covid-19 public health emergency, please refer to the hiring options outlined in the University's payroll processes for summer and fall 2021. Not all options outlined below and in our hiring guides are currently available.

Partner Organization

Working with a local partner (e.g. peer university or non-governmental organization) in the host country to employ local staff — and in some cases U.S. expats or third-country nationals (TCNs) — can be significantly simpler than hiring staff directly. Harvard Schools and departments are responsible for sourcing and vetting the partner organization and negotiating the service agreement. These partners are often found through pre-existing research relationships. Harvard’s Office of General Counsel, Office of Sponsored Programs, and our office can advise on the service agreement.

In this arrangement, the staff are employees of the local organization, and the administrative requirements associated with their employment are the responsibility of the local organization. Considering this option early on can make it easier to fold staff into services provided by existing subcontractors or local service providers, and correctly set expectations for employees.

  • Salary
  • Fringe expense to cover employer-sponsored benefits and employer-owed taxes
  • Partner's monthly administrative fee to cover cost of adding employee to payroll (e.g. five to 10 percent of salary)
  • Visa sponsorship fees, if necessary

Pros

  • Fast implementation relative to other options
  • Potential for office space
  • Limited risk for Harvard
  • Partner responsible for tax and labor law compliance
  • Partner administrative fee typically less than other options

Cons

  • Visa sponsorship may not be available
  • No Harvard University affiliation
  • Little or no control over benefits
  • Potential for conflicts of interest
Harvard Global

Harvard Global Research and Support Services, Inc., also known as Harvard Global or "HG", is a Harvard-affiliated non-profit legal entity that provides international office administration and employment and payroll services. We can help determine if HG is an option.

Harvard Global can provide employment services in the following scenarios:

Tier I: In a country where HG is not legally established

Harvard Global's ability to employ staff is limited, but sometimes there are special provisions that allow them to offer this service. For example, they may be able to hire U.S. expats and TCNs paid from federally-funded projects if a bilateral agreement allowing employment exists between the government of the host country and the U.S. In these scenarios, HG cannot provide visa sponsorship, so the program must source a local partner for sponsorship.

Tier II: In a country where HG is legally established or has jurisdiction to operate

Harvard Global can likely add staff to their existing payroll in that country. The staff must be legally authorized to work in that country. Although rare, Harvard Global may be able to provide visa sponsorship in certain scenarios.

If a program will span several years and need office or lab space in addition to employment and payroll services, it may be suitable for Harvard Global to register and provide your program with both services. See where Harvard Global operates for a list of ongoing operations and operations in development.

  • Salary
  • Fringe expense to cover employer-sponsored benefits and employer-owed taxes
  • HG monthly service fee:
    • Tier I: $250 per month, per employee
    • Tier II: $750 per month, per employee; there is also a one-time startup fee of $1,000
  • Visa sponsorship fees, if necessary

Tier I is an option for expatriates and TCNs to be employed overseas in countries where HG is not legally established.

Tier II is an option for employment in countries where HG is already legally established or has jurisdiction to operate.

Pros

  • Harvard University affiliation
  • Harvard University identification number (HUID)
  • Comparable benefits package
  • Access to Harvard systems (online libraries, shared drives, etc.)
  • Harvard Global email address and business cards

Cons

  • Availability limited
  • Long lead times
  • Visa sponsorship limited
  • Administrative fee higher than some options
  • Office space incurs additional administrative fee
Harvard Entity

In countries where there is an existing Harvard-affiliated office, that office may be able to employ staff for your project. In some cases, they also may be able to provide office space. The suitability of this option depends on the specific job duties, the way in which the office was originally formed (for example, some offices have a scope that is legally limited to particular types of work), and the ability of the department that runs the affiliated office to absorb the administrative burden of additional employees on their payroll.

We maintain relationships with Harvard's overseas entities and can help assess this option. If feasible, the affiliated overseas office and the Harvard department may enter into a service agreement and coordinate with HR.

  • Salary
  • Fringe expense to cover employer-sponsored benefits and employer-owed taxes
  • Entity's monthly administrative fee to cover cost of adding employee to payroll (e.g. up to 25 percent of total compensation)
  • Visa sponsorship fees, if necessary

Pros

  • Harvard University affiliation
  • Potential for office space
  • Potential for access to Harvard systems (online libraries, shared drives, etc.)
  • Low administrative fee (typically at cost and no mark-up)

Cons

  • Availability limited
  • Benefits vary by entity
  • Office space not guaranteed
  • Visa sponsorship limited
Professional Employer Organization

A professional employer organization (PEO) provides employment services, including human resource and payroll services, similar to a temporary staffing agency. We manage the University’s relationship with several global PEO firms and can guide you through this option if it’s right for your program.

Contracting with a PEO is an option when a small number of employees are needed in a specific location for a limited period of time. In this model, the individuals are employed by the PEO and provide services to the Harvard department. The PEO is responsible for all employment law, tax, and reporting requirements. However, because Harvard may share liability if the PEO fails to comply with the law, such relationships must be closely monitored.

  • Salary
  • Fringe expense to cover employer-sponsored benefits and employer-owed taxes
  • PEO's monthly service fee (e.g. 18-25 percent of compensation, or a minimum of $800-$1,500 per employee)
  • PEO one-time onboarding fee (e.g. $300-$1,000 per employee)
  • Visa sponsorship fees, if necessary

Pros

  • Widely available
  • Limited risk for Harvard
  • PEO responsible for tax and labor law compliance
  • Potential to source office space

Cons

  • High administrative costs
  • No Harvard University affiliation
  • Little or no control over benefits
Frequent Travel by U.S. Staff

If full-time in-country staffing is not needed, then frequent travel by U.S.-based staff may be a good solution that avoids many of the complications of employing someone based in the foreign location. This is only an option if the employee is a resident of Massachusetts for at least six months per year.

Combining this option with another option can also be a good solution. For example, local nationals could be hired through a subcontract with a local partner (option 1), and then U.S.-based Harvard staff could travel to train the local nationals and provide oversight. As long as employees spend more than six months of the year in the U.S., they will usually be considered based in the U.S. and can be paid via the Harvard payroll.

  • Salary
  • Fringe expense to cover employer-sponsored benefits and employer-owed taxes
  • Travel expenses (e.g. flights, lodging, per diems, visa and passport fees, immunizations, etc.)

Pros

  • Avoids foreign employment complications
  • Full Harvard University affiliations, benefits, and access

Cons

  • Can be difficult to accurately predict travel within the tax threshold
  • Travel expenses can add up
  • Visa and work authorization requirements can be costly and time consuming
  • Use of office space abroad can trigger permanent establishment and tax liabilities
Independent Contractor

Engaging someone as an independent contractor (IC) can be more straightforward than hiring them as an employee, but every country has different rules about the distinction between contractors and employees. It's important to work through local HR processes regarding IC classifications.

In most countries, a worker is assumed to be an employee unless they qualify as an IC by meeting certain criteria. The criteria vary, but the following qualities tend to be universally important to an IC determination:

  • Duration of assignment
  • Percentage of time spent on the Harvard project
  • Control over how, when, and where the work is done
  • A business of doing similar work for clients other than Harvard and also as a contractor
  • Use of own offices or facilities and equipment
  • Payment of own business expenses
  • Compensation based solely on services rendered (e.g. no vacation pay or employer-sponsored benefits like health insurance)

Some countries require ICs to register as businesses and/or collect a service tax or value-added tax (VAT) from their customers (e.g. Harvard). Harvard leaves these matters to the responsibility of the IC. A few countries apply obligations (e.g. tax withholding) even to those institutions engaging ICs.

  • Salary
  • Any other costs agreed to in the contract (e.g. travel expenses, visa sponsorship expenses, and allowances that may be grossed up in the salary
  • In rare cases, country-required expenses for tax withholding or reporting requirements)

Pros

  • Fast implementation relative to other options
  • IC responsible for tax compliance in most cases
  • IC responsible for work/office space
  • IC responsible for obtaining visa sponsorship, if needed

Cons

  • No Harvard University affiliation
  • Increasing IC restrictions worldwide
  • Triple damages for misclassification
  • Not a good long-term solution